Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How I Felt at Machu Picchu Part 2

... and then, at 6:00 in the morning, they opened the gates. We were probably about twenty people back from the front of the slow-moving line, and as it inched forward, I felt within myself a swelling sense of excitement. Despite all of my apprehension that had been accumulating over the course of the previous couple of days, I was starting to get anxious. We arrived to the front of the line and showed our documents. Then, we walked through the turnstile and hustled up a hill. I should mention here that from this part of the site, nothing is really visible. The entrance gates are behind a small hill and underneath a tree-canopy that prevents any of the actual site to be seen.

So, as we walked through the turnstile and up the small hill that blocked our view, I started to sense that something amazing was happening. We rounded a corner and there before us was the most amazing sight that I have ever beheld. Ancient brick stacked on brick, settled neatly into green grass fields and terraced staircases; mountains in panorama, dropping thousands of feet on either side; determined fog lifting slowly from the buildings, only to be softly replenished by the steady, swirling morning wind. It was beautiful. I mean that. It was the most beautiful place I had ever been. But, the thing that knocked me back, that broke down my stoic countenance and filled me full of the sweet lightness of being was the silence. That place, all immense and ancient, was silent. There was not a sound from the wookies or the hippies or the whiney college girls. No one dared challenge the sacredness of that place. All was still that bright and blossoming morning. My heart was still. We hurried up a flight of antiquated steps to get a higher vantage point; each precipice revealing a new perspective; a new set of buildings, a new neighborhood in that ancient city. The sheer immensity of it made me feel every bit of the history that it had survived. I could see the ancient caravans arriving to the city gate, full of Incan pilgrims arriving to pay their respects to the royalty that occupied the houses. I could see children running though the cobblestone streets, naked and free. I could see the terraces full of crops, and the old and bent villagers working the fields. It was alive, and I could see it. I felt young, I felt connected, I felt small; but a good small. I felt like my life was just a part of this eternal story that has been woven in and out of the millennia. I felt insignificant, but in a submissive way; like I could rest from all of the little problems that I convince myself I have. God is real, and I could not deny that for a second. It was freeing. I'm not in control of my own destiny. The outcome of my life isn't dependent on how hard I work to become something or to earn my value or to deserve love. I am something, I am valuable, I am loved. There, at Machu Picchu, I felt the full weight of my freedom, of my value. It was awesome.

The novelty didn't and hasn't worn off. We walked through the different parts of the city, climbed the Huaynu Picchu (the adjacent mountain,) eavesdropped on several tours, etc. There were a lot of really fascinating pieces that made up the ancient village, but the beauty of that place sticks with me more than anything; that feeling of being small yet entirely significant. He makes all things new. He is constantly in the process of making all things new. I am being made new, and I could feel that process active as I stood in awe of Machu Picchu.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How I Felt at Machu Picchu Part 1


It was dark. The gates of Machu Picchu, still closed at 5:56 am, were crowded with white people; hundreds of them. All had been awake for an hour at least, and all were equally anxious to get into the ancient city of stone. I held my wife's hand, awash with anticipation. We were there, we were about to mark off another bucket list item. I'll admit, I had relatively low expectations. Tourist attractions were tourist attractions. I'd seen my share of them. Now, ever since we had arrived in Peru, all there was to see were pictures and advertisements for this place. The city of Cusco, where we had been staying, seemed to primarily exist to make money off of tourists that were on there way to Machu Picchu. It was a racket. On many of the streets we walked down in Cusco, we were met with dozens of people aggressively trying to sell us tours or train tickets to this place. The ones that weren't were offering services only a tourist would be interested in. That place was a cesspool of commercial exploitation. I had heard amazing things about Machu Picchu in the past. But, the most common sentiment was that it was overcrowded; that there were too many people. I've been places like that before. Las Ramblas, the Colosseum, The National Gallery, The British Museum: all had that similar blot. I've also seen what touristic hype can create. In Brussels, the "Mannequin Pis" is the most highly sought after tourist attraction. There are gift shops lining the street with memorabilia recreating the stone fountain of a boy peeing into a basin. All the build up leads one to believe that it is enormous, that there is some impressive and unbelievable history, that it was the reason the Germans lost World War II, or something equally monumental. Then, as you push through the surrounding crowd, you realize that it's just a foot-tall stone fountain of a boy peeing into a basin.
So, there I was with my wife, awaiting the parks department employees to open the gates and take our tickets, expecting to be mildly entertained. I looked at the people around me. I've heard stories of the days before Machu Picchu was so popular. The first account I had heard from someone that had made the trip sounded like an episode of "Man Vs. Wild" with Bear Grylls. It was in Colorado, and I was taking a group of high school kids to Young Life camp. Our group had stopped on the way to camp at a white-water rafting facility, and were floating down the Arizona river. Our guide was telling us all about her trip to Machu Picchu; how she had hiked for days and days, stopping in tiny villages on the way, sleeping on the ground, eating whatever they could buy from the local farmers. It was a rugged story of struggle and adversity. Her and her accompanying friends were then rewarded with a pristine and empty Machu Picchu, mostly all to themselves. The glory of earning the experience made it all the more attractive. But, as I looked around myself, I saw people that had undergone very little adversity. Ourselves included: we had taken a van to a town called Ollantaytambo, and there had gotten on a train to another town called Aguas Calientes. We stayed in a comfortable hotel with hot water and free breakfast, and then had woken up that day at 4:30 to crowd onto a bus full of more tourists. The bus ride was safe and easy. Nothing in that trip was hard.
And, the people around me looked the part of casual tourists that hadn't earned the experience. I felt a sharp pain of not deserving to be there. It was all too easy. There were elderly Europeans in their sun hats and khaki-capris. There were loud college-aged girls that were complaining about how early they had had to get up. There were smelly Wookies that were making another stop on some never-ending spirit quest across the America. We read the signs, asking patrons to keep their clothes on (literally) and to keep their voices down and to be respectful. The existence of these signs meant that it had become necessary to reinforce the sanctity of the site. The necessity to reinforce the sanctity of the site meant that, over the years, the constant stream of visitors had de-sanctified the site to some degree. My heart sank slightly at the realization that this holy piece of human history had been diminished and undercut by the exploitation of commercial gain. At this point, I was expecting the worst. I was expecting Disneyland...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Self-imposed Isolation as I Come to Grips With Telling the Truth

I think I want to come back to blogging. When I was younger, I would blog and blog and blog. I think that I was lonely. I think that I needed to say things, but I didn't trust anyone enough to sit in front of them and say those things out loud. I didn't have any real reason not to trust people, though. No, I was just scared of the possibility of rejection, I suppose. So, I wrote. It was cathartic, but it was only for my own benefit.

I find myself now growing more and more closed for some reason. I don't know what's happening. I got married almost a year ago. The thing that blew me away about this woman that I married was that I felt like I could tell her anything. I laid myself out in front of her; all of the gross and disappointing truths about myself. She soaked my failures in, one by one. She listened to the dark things that I've done: the people that I've killed, the wars that I've started, the hatred that I've poured out onto the people around me. She sat quietly, looking me in the eyes. When I finished, she would nod or smile or take my hand. And, that was that. She loved me, she loved me in spite of my constant, ugly failure. I've been prone to self-loathing, and I've known a handful of people that have reinforced that characteristic with their sweeping disapproval of me. But, in my future wife's unconditional acceptance of me, I found love that was real and forgiveness that was flawless. I have gone through a period of my life where I came to grips with the truth of who Jesus is, and how his very existence is an undeniable testimony to the love that God has for me. Priscilla was a gift in the wake of that transition from death to life. I had a person that loved me like God loved me. It was eye-opening and life-giving. Her openness to my failure and condition-free acceptance of me brought something to life within me. I opened my heart, I let down my walls, I gave her everything that there was to give. It was wonderful, to pour out my soul, to be entirely available. Life had a totally different feel to it.

Now, almost a year after our wedding, I've noticed myself slipping back into some old habits. My wife's love and acceptance of me have not altered one bit. She is still the open-armed angel that married me. But, I don't know. I've been buying into a voice that says that she won't love me as much if she knows my sin and my ugliness. It's a lie. I know it's a lie. It's crazy how my natural process is going from life to death. I'm constantly pulling myself toward my own self-destruction. Here I have a woman in my life who wants to know me as I am. And what do I do? I give in to a lie that I have no one to trust; that all love is conditional.

So, here I am, back on blogspot. As I write out this account, I realize things for the first time. I want to write about these processes, to make known the silly battles that rage on in my mind. They aren't that powerful; those voices that defeat me so often. But, isolation is the greatest tool that the enemy has. So, I will write. And, truth will win. Stick around, shareholders. This might get interesting.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Got the "Stop Wasting Your Life and Go Do Something that Matters" Quiz

I just took this quiz and got the "Stop Wasting Your Life and Go Do Something that Matters" quiz. Find out what quiz you are here